F-35 test flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth completed ahead of schedule

The second phase of the F-35 test flying programme (DT-2) has exceeded expectations and was completed on 18th November, well ahead of schedule.

During the trials periods, the two test F-35s conducted 202 take-offs, 187 vertical landings and 15 SRVLs (Shipbourne Rolling Vertical Landings). The aircraft spent a total of 75 hours in the air and 54 training weapons were dropped on ranges in the US. All of the DT-1 and DT-2 threshold requirements were achieved and rapid progress allowed a significant portion of the testing originally planned for next year’s DT3 phase to be started.

The trials process and been very reliant on assistance from the US, which included, logistical support at Naval Station Norfolk, escort from US Navy destroyers and replenishment from USNS vessels. US Marine Corps personnel were also on board the QE to assist in aircraft handling and pass on their F-35 handling skills and experience to their RN counterparts.

Various configurations of bombs and missiles were loaded onto the F-35s, in the first test of the ship’s unique highly mechanised weapons handling system. ITF scientists also recorded large amounts of data from the ship and the jets; that data will determine the limits (weather, humidity, pitch and roll of the ship, aircraft weight) at which the Lightnings can safely launch from and land back on the QEC carriers.

The two test aircraft disembarked from the ship back to the ITF base at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland on 19th November. The ship will make a third and final visit to Norfolk to unload equipment before she returns to Portsmouth in December.

F-35B integration with Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier design appears to have been vindicated by these early trials. Congratulations should go to all those involved in a very complex project which has taken two decades to get to this point.

One of the four test pilots, Commander Nathan Gray said “It has been phenomenal to get through these high profile tests with such success. This is due to the skills of the designers of both the F-35 and the ship herself. Without the vision of the Royal Navy and the unfailing support of the ship’s company we would not have achieved what we have today. I am proud to have helped deliver this future and enduring operational capability.”

The new commanding officer, Captian Nick Cooke-Priest speaking about the Westlant deployment added, “It has re-introduced the true value that carrier capabilities bring to the UK and her allies, it has deepened our relationship with our closest ally, demonstrated our nation’s engineering prowess and cemented our commitment to the future as a global navy.”

Flyco – the best view in the house. A Merlin Mk 4 returns to ‘mother’.

The ship also conducted a backwards vertical landing, with the F-35 facing the stern, not bow. The manoeuvre would rarely be needed but is intended to give pilots and the flight deck team more options to safely land aircraft in an emergency

Flying was conducted in all weathers and a variety of sea states.

Night flying from an aircraft carrier is especially demanding.

The modern open plan operations room – seen here during an air defence exercise on board HMS Queen Elizabeth. During operations, the Commanding Officer would be seated at the workstation on the far right.

RAS(L) – RFA Tidespring refuels HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The final F-35 take off during this set of trials. It will be the second half of 2019 before fixed wing aircraft are embarked again.

The third phase of flying trials (DT-3) is due to be conducted in 2019. The success of the Westlant 18 deployment, including the high-profile visit to New York, will allow HMS Queen Elizabeth to move on to operational trials next year with British-owned F-35s flown by RN and RAF aviators based at RAF Marham.